Humor of Words Confused in German

Humor of Words Confused in German by Mark Twain is adapted from his book A Tramp Abroad [1880]:

I suppose that in all languages the similarities of look and sound between words which have no similarity in meaning are a fruitful source of perplexity to the foreigner.

It is so in our tongue,

and it is notably the case in the German.

Now there is that troublesome word VERMAEHLT:

to me it has so close a resemblance—either real or fancied—to three or four other words (in German),

that I never know whether it means despised, painted, suspected, or married;

until I look in the dictionary,

and then I find it means the latter (married).

There are lots of such words and they are a great torment.

To increase the difficulty

there are words which SEEM to resemble each other, and yet do not;

but they make just as much trouble as if they did.

For instance,

there is the word VERMIETHEN (to RENT, to lease, to let);

and the word VERHEIRATHEN (another way of saying to MARRY).

I heard of an Englishman who knocked at a man's door in Heidelberg

and proposed, in the best German he could command, to "VERHEIRATHEN" (MARRY) that HOUSE.


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